DVD: Hookers on Davie / Working on Davie Street (1984)

October 30, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  Mr. Fat

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / CanCon

Synopsis: Iconic documentary on the prostitutes working Vancouver’s infamous Davie Street, circa 1984.

Special Features:  (none)




During the early 1980s, Janice Cole and Holly Dale directed a pivotal documentary on prostitution in Canada, with their gritty 16mm camera trained on Vancouver’s Davie Street, branded in the film’s prologue as “the prostitution capitol of Canada.”

Cole and Dale don’t pass judgments on their subjects nor their vocation, and although the doc ends on the first protest rally by sex workers against child prostitution and planned criminal law revisions, it’s not an uplifting nor empowering portrait of street life where danger and scumbags can deepen already traumatic psyches.

Many of HOD’s interviewees have transitioned to women, but the doc’s central figure did so in part for economic reasons stating more clients want women, and each sex worker has a tough tale of abuse, neglect, parental abandonment, and bouts of drug addiction.

Once in a while you hear Cole and Dale’s off-camera questions, but the doc is overwhelmingly dominated by the men and women, either in intimate talking head Q&As, moments in a local all-night greasy spoon where a group gathers for drinks before starting the next shift, or in more impersonal / secluded locations, like a public restroom.

A few nighttime sequences feature miked workers cajoling, trying to entice, bargain and bicker with passing johns (few of whom appear in much detail), but in most cases the street corner footage captures the long down time and boredom when a whole night fails to yield a livable take. It also reinforces the circular nihilism of certain workers whose lives are anchored around the job and little else. Local cops maintain a slight buffer zone between creeps, and there’s slight drama when a rumour of a mutilated worker moves from a scary report to fabricated gossip designed to scare prostitutes away for a while (if not provide a bit of morbid entertainment for a bored vice squad).

Cole and Dale don’t attempt to fully explain the reason for the proliferation of workers on David Street; HOD is just a snapshot of a period and a big city locale, but over the decades the film retains its importance for being wholly unadorned. Aside from an unusually long opening montage of day and nighttime workers on streets and neighbourhood intersections set to The Crusaders’ “Street Life,” there’s no other music, no snappy visual sequences or clichéd counter-commentary by sociologists or legal reps. HOD is very much rooted in the NFB style of building a narrative from interviews, location & fly-on-the-wall footage, which makes this now 30+ year old doc oddly refreshing.

Originally distributed by the old Pan-Canadian label on DVD, HOD has yet to receive a formal DVD release, and this grey market edition from Mr. Fat was taken from what seems to be an adequate ¾” U-Matic tape, but there’s a major blunder in the transfer: the techie never hit the STOP RECORD button, because no sooner does the End Credits finish does the film rewind a few minutes to repeat the finale. A few segments near the end in the greasy spoon also have tracking issues, but this is the likely stopgap until the film’s owners attempt a proper release.

The ideal would be a Criterion-style anthology of the filmmakers’ short docs – Cream Soda (1976), Thin Line (1977) for the NFB, Minimum Charge No Cover (1978) – and the much-lauded P4W Prison for Women (1981), Hookers on Davie (1983), and Calling the Shots (1988), the last an extensive portrait of women who moved from acting & producing to directing, and working within the Hollywood studio system.

Dale remains very active as director, having made the break to fiction feature films with Blood & Donuts (1995), and a lot of episodic TV, including the cult series Durham County (2007-2010).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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